A deadly U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Afghanistan last year was unintentional and does not amount to a “war crime”, America’s defense chief said in a report Friday.
The U.S. military investigation into the attack on the medical charity organization found that the strike was caused “by a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures.”
These factors caused personnel “to believe mistakenly” that the aircrew was firing on an intended target, according to the report.
“The intended target was an insurgent-controlled site which was approximately 400 meters away from the MSF Trauma Center,” the report said, adding that the investigation showed U.S. Special Forces “misidentified and struck” the wrong target.
U.S. Central Command commander, Gen. Joseph Votel, said in a statement that during the attack, military personnel did not know they were striking a medical facility.
“We extend our deepest condolences to those injured and to the families of those killed in this tragic incident,” said Votel. “We are fully committed to learning from this tragedy and minimizing the risk of civilian casualties during future combat operations.”
The attack, which resulted in 42 civilian deaths, did not amount a “war crime”, according to the report that said the strike was not “intentionally targeting” civilians or objects.
“The label ‘war crimes’ is typically reserved for intentional acts — intentionally targeting civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects,” it said.
Donna McKay, executive director at Physicians for Human Rights, said the report did not go far enough. The U.S. government has accepted its mistake but “mere reprimands” did not substitute for “a full criminal investigation,” she said. “Good-faith is not enough.
“There are laws — even in the heat of warfare — which must be followed. And no one is above them. Period. While the Kunduz strike may have been a mistake, some mistakes may be criminal,” she added.
Since the attack, McKay’s organization has pressed the White House and the Pentagon to consider a criminal inquiry into the case.
According to the report, an investigative team visited the MSF Trauma Center site and several other locations in Kunduz.
The team interviewed more than 65 witnesses including personnel at the trauma center, U.S. and Afghan ground forces, members of the aircrew and representatives at every echelon of command in Afghanistan.
“The team had full access to classified information, and the investigation includes more than 3,000 pages of documentary evidence, much of it classified,” according to the Pentagon.
Defense chief Ash Carter directed his team to review policies, directives and rules of engagement to clarify conflicting or confusing directives, in order to reduce the chances of similar occurrences.
The Kunduz scenario will be incorporated into pre-deployment training as an example of a complex mission environment into which units are deploying.
The new rules will be applied within 120 days, according to a memorandum by Carter. In a recent visit to Kunduz, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan pledged Washington’s full support to help MSF rebuild a hospital in the region.
The report was released one day after a Pentagon official told Anadolu Agency that 16 military personnel, including a general, were disciplined for their mistakes in the attack.
The strike took place while Afghan troops tried to retake Kunduz from the Taliban.
MSF said it would “take time necessary to examine the U.S. report and to determine whether or not the U.S. account answers the many questions that remain outstanding seven months after the attack.”
President Barack Obama apologized to MSF following the attack.
By Esra Kaymak Avci